Mental health facility opens in Porirua, advocate says more needed

Dewi Preece
Source: 1News

It's the first of its kind in New Zealand - a purpose-built facility for the most vulnerable Kiwis who need the highest levels of care.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Andrew Little unveiled a $13.3 million, six-bed facility that's set to accommodate people with intellectual disabilities who need mental health support.

"These are some of the most acutely unwell young people and people who have the greatest need for care."

The facility, called Manawai, would serve people across the country.

"The facilities here are dealing with people whose level of care that is needed is so specialist or so specialised that it didn't make sense to spread that around [the country]," Little said.

"This is quite a big step forward compared to what we've had before."

Paul Oxnam, clinical director of the Mental Health, Addiction and Intellectual Disability Service (MHAIDS), said patients would be referred to Manawai from regional services around the country.

"The people who are coming into Manawai have come from those [regional] services, and they are assessed as better-placed in a much more individualised, specialised environment like we have at Manawai."

But by virtue of treating the patients with the greatest needs, it meant they needed highly-trained staff for the facility. These nurses weren't readily available in New Zealand.

"In New Zealand, there isn't a learning disability nurse training pipeline. So, typically, the people who work in our services come from a mental health background and then we provide the additional training they need to work in this specialist area. So, a lot of our staffing does need to come from overseas from the UK," Oxnam said.

When asked how easy that was, Oxnam replied: "It's not a straightforward process."

The unit would eventually need 46 staff to run it, but would initially only operate four of its six beds.

This was well below the demand, New Zealand Disability Support Network chief executive Peter Reynolds said.

"Six beds sounds great. There are about 300 people that are at a high-dependency level who are seeking and needing the sort of support this unit professes to be able to supply.

"So, what are we doing about the other 294? It's a drop in the bucket, and we really need the size of the bucket to be responded to rather than the size of the drop."

Little said more support and more facilities were coming.

"We've got a mental health infrastructure programme - about $500 million's worth - all underway at the moment. Many of the projects that aren't under construction will be very soon."

READ MORE: Little hits back at criticism of $1.9b mental health funding

National's mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey welcomed today's new facility. But, he said the Government wasn't moving quickly enough.

"It's been five years now since Labour came into government. They've announced over 13 new facilities, and after five years this is the first facility they've opened.

"For something they promised to deliver on, there's a lot left wanting."